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Gay returns to lead Grizzlies past Nuggets

The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Welcome back, Rudy Gay.

The Grizzlies' forward, who missed Wednesday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers because he was grounded out of town by inclement weather, scored eight points in a late 10-0 run to push Memphis past the Denver Nuggets 81-72 Saturday night at FedEx Forum.

"It has been a couple of games since I was comfortable out there, and the last four minutes I was comfortable," said Gay, who finished with a game-high 19 points and added six rebounds. "We needed some buckets, and I had the ball at those times."

Gay's flurry of baskets, which started with 3:46 left and the game tied at 68, included a tough driving layup, a finger roll off a Zach Randolph feed, a 12-foot pull-up jumper and a step-back 13-footer.

Throw in a turnaround jumper by Randolph, and the Grizzlies (19-8) closed with a 13-4 burst that put away the game against the tired Nuggets (17-15), who were playing the second game of a back-to-back.

"The fact they played last night took a little of their running steam away, and I'm not complaining," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said of the Nuggets. "We were trying anything to get some energy. We were just moping around. We had 36 points at the half, and I didn't know if we were going to get to 70."

The Nuggets barely did.

Danilo Gallinari scored 39 points in a 106-85 victory at Dallas on Friday, but the Grizzlies' Tony Allen said, "I watched that whole Dallas game and he wasn't going to score 39 on me." And Allen came through, helping limit Gallinari to seven points on 2-of-8 shooting.

Randolph was the only other Memphis player besides Gay to score in double figures, hitting 12 points. Four Nuggets were in double figures, with Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer and JaVale McGee scoring 12 each.

Both teams looked sloppy and uninterested until early in the fourth quarter, and it was reflected in the shooting stats.

The Grizzlies shot 40.3 percent from the field, 26.3 from the three-point line and 57.1 from the free-throw line. Denver was almost as bad: 42.6 percent from the field, 18.8 from three and 61.1 at the foul line.

"We just ran out of energy and ran out of bodies," Denver coach George Karl said. "We really didn't have anybody playing a great game. Our turnovers in the fourth quarter broke our hearts, but I've seen the Grizzlies turn up their defense like that a dozen times. They wreak havoc with your decisions. I've seen this script before."

Still, it looked bleak for Memphis at the end of the third quarter, and it had nothing to do with Denver leading 57-53.

With 3.1 seconds left in the period, swingman Quincy Pondexter, Memphis' leading bench scorer at 6.8 points per game, was carried off the floor after spraining a knee. Teammate Wayne Ellington fell into Pondexter as he was boxing out on a free throw.

One of the Grizzlies carrying a crying Pondexter off the court was little-used third-team center Hamed Haddadi, who has played in just four games all season. Haddadi was upset that his teammate was in so much pain, and he channeled that into the game's biggest play when he unexpectedly started the final quarter.

With Memphis trailing 62-59, Haddadi, a 7-foot-2 Iranian, took a Jerryd Bayless feed and jammed in a left-handed dunk that sent a surge of energy throughout the building and through everybody in a Memphis uniform.

It enabled the Grizzlies to play with more energy down the stretch, holding the game even until Gay put on his finishing kick.

"I had a dream this morning that I was going to get a dunk tonight," Haddadi said. "So when I got the ball, I was not going to lay it in. I was going to dunk. What's the worst they can do? Block it?"

That didn't happen, and stunningly it was enough to get Memphis over the hump on a night when the Grizzlies were far from perfect in their usual strengths -- such as points in the paint, where Denver scored 48 while holding the Grizzlies to a season-low 30.

NOTES: Memphis avoided its second three-game losing streak of the season and its first back-to-back home losses. ... The Grizzlies outrebounded the Nuggets 49-41 after getting beat on the boards by an average of 46-40 in the first two losses to Denver this season. ... Memphis backup forward Marreese Speights had a team-high 10 rebounds, the first time he has led the team this year.
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